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EHE is one buff college: Just look at our Olympians

Robin Chenoweth
August 01, 2016

UPDATE: EHE athletes performed excellently during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Kyle Snyder became the youngest wrestler in U.S. history to win gold; Michelle Williams won bronze in swimming for the 4 x 100-meter freestyle; and Nichelle Prince won bronze in women's soccer.

Ever since Jesse Owens shot down a cinder track in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in 1936, the College of Education and Human Ecology has had a face at the Games. Owens blazed a trail for several physical education majors who became Olympians, including gold medalists Ford Konno, ’59, a swimmer; and Butch Reynolds, ’91, in track and field.

EHE will dominate the 2016 Games for Ohio State with five Olympians — no other college has more — who will play for three countries. Each athlete is enrolled in or graduated from the college’s Department of Human Sciences.

Here’s the EHE lineup for Rio:

Aina Cid Centelles, Spain Women’s Pair Rowing

Woman Olympian rowing boat

Amposta, Spain
Exercise science, senior
Competed: Aug. 7-12, 2016

Mornings find Aina Cid Centelles gliding through oneiric settings like the emerald Banyoles Lake in Catalonia, Spain, or the meandering Ebre River near her hometown. Even at Griggs Reservoir in Columbus, the effect on the Ohio State rower is the same.

“What I love about rowing is how peaceful and sensitive I feel when I am in the boat,” she said, “being able to feel the water passing beneath the boat, the sound of the blade getting in the water at the catch or even the birds singing.”

Rowing is Cid Centelles’ escape from life . . . and perhaps her entree into it. She will compete in her first Olympics Aug. 7 in Women’s Pair Rowing for Spain.

Her father, also a rower, introduced her to the sport by signing her up for a summer camp when she was nine. She excelled, placing fourth in doubles and fifth in singles in the Junior World Rowing Championships in 2011 and 2012. She recently earned a bronze medal at the 2016 World Rowing Cup.

Cid Centelles chose Ohio State for its team rankings and EHE’s highly regarded exercise science education program. (“I want to find the way to make society more active and therefore healthier.”)  But getting used to Ohio State’s nine-woman teams and larger sculls challenged her. Still, she and her team clinched three NCAA titles in her three years on the team.

Her teammates call her “Pony” because her 5’7” frame is short for a rower, but her powerful legs drive her through each stroke. She trains up to 7½ hours daily, erging (using a machine to simulate watercraft rowing), biking, weight-lifting and hitting the water.

“When the pain comes, I tell myself that there is where I want to be,” she said. “I want to feel more pain. The more it hurts the worse my opponents feel.”

Nate Ebner, USA Rugby Men’s Sevens

Olympic rugby player stands with hands on waist

Dublin, Ohio
Human nutrition and exercise science education, 2012 graduate
Competed: Aug. 9-11, 2016

When Nate Ebner walked onto the Ohio State Football team in 2009, he wasn't one to waste words. He went to practice, kicked butt, went home. He had his own inner dialogue going on. It went something like this:

“When I look back at my life, I don’t want to have any regrets. Regrets that I didn’t give something everything that I possibly had. Or that I didn’t try to go for something that I really wanted in fear that it wouldn’t work out.”

Though he had never played high school football, he competed against dozens to earn a walk-on spot on a nationally ranked team. He alone made the roster.

For two years he played sparingly for special teams but entered the 2012 draft anyway. No regrets. He was selected in the sixth round and became part of the New England Patriots’ winning Super Bowl XLIX team. Coach Bill Belichick praised him as among the most improved players he’d coached.

But rugby had been Ebner’s sport. He’d watched his dad play, joined his first team at six and at 17 became the youngest person ever to play for the U.S. Men’s National team in Rugby Sevens. He played at Ohio State — where he was a human nutrition major and exercise science minor — but got antsy to try football.

He talked to his father his sophomore year about switching. Soon after, Jeff Ebner was murdered in a robbery attempt at the family salvage shop where Nate had spent summers crushing cars. Ebner was 19.

He calls himself battle-tested, says he wants people who've faced serious tragedy to know that it doesn't have to define them.

“No one can see the future and living in the moment is all you can control when you really think about it,” he said. “There are good and bad consequences to every decision we make, every day of our lives; and failing at things we attempt is a very real possibility.”

But not trying? That’s a true loss, Ebner said.

This year, Olympic rugby will be reintroduced after a 92-year hiatus. True to his gut, after signing a $2.4 million contract with the Patriots and not having played rugby for seven years, Ebner asked the Patriots for a leave of absence. He made the 2016 USA Olympic Rugby Sevens team in July.

“Whatever the outcome, I gave everything I had toward what I can control; and with that, I can sleep easy,” he said.

Nichelle Prince, Canada Women’s Soccer

Canadian soccer player stands with right foot on soccer ball

Ajax, Ontario
Sport industry major, senior
Competed: Aug. 3, 6 and 9, 2016

Jamaicans are leviathans in the world of track and field. So when Fabian Prince, a track coach from Jamaica, saw promise in his long-limbed daughter, he began training her. She was five.

“Having your father as your track coach is definitely interesting,” Nichelle Prince said. “But it’s definitely helped me in my career.”

She was hypersonic, not just on her school track in Ontario, but on the soccer field as well. She ran meets internationally and played soccer in Canada until it became too difficult to do both.

“It was time to decide,” she recalled. When she was invited into a youth national camp for soccer, her path became clear. “Soccer’s always been something I’ve been more passionate about — I’ve loved it more than anything.”

Her father is proud. And who wouldn’t be?

Her runner’s edge propelled Prince on the field. She played for Canada’s under-17 and under-20 national teams. FIFA called her “a savior” after she brought the team from behind in the U-20 Women’s World Cup to score the winning goal against Finland. She made the qualification Olympic team for Canada, which in February earned its spot in the Rio games.

Last year at Ohio State, Prince tied for team lead with six goals and seven assists.

“I felt (Ohio State) understood my goals and they would be a great support system for me, and they have been,” she said.

EHE’s sport industry program is “the perfect major for me,” she said. “To learn about the business side of things, the industry as a whole — I really love the major.”

She hopes to become an athletic director. But now, she’s laser-focused on the Aug. 3 match in Rio against No. 5-ranked Australia, then hopefully on to Zimbabwe and Germany. Prince has trained grueling hours for this — doing drills, pushing herself, reaching personal bests.

“They’re long busy days; they’re tough days; but we know we’re preparing for the Olympics,” she said.

Kyle Snyder, USA Men’s Wrestling

Olympic wrestler deadlifts pair of 75-pound dumbbells

Woodbine, Maryland
Sport industry major, junior
Competed: Aug. 21, 2016

They call him Snyderman, after the Marvel Comics character, because of how he tangles up his opponents. At 20, he is the youngest member of the U.S. Men’s Olympic Wrestling team. To qualify, he bested 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jake Varner. Last year he became the youngest American in history to receive a world title.

The guy has so many trophies and medals, he sent them home to Maryland to make room when his younger brother moved into his apartment.

He started wrestling at five. Much of his childhood was spent grappling with his two brothers; the older one always beat him.

“I’ve been wrestling older people for a really long time,” he said.

He always was a beefy kid — he now weighs 245 pounds, all muscle — so he had to “wrestle up” in age groups to get more matches.

“It isn’t common for younger, bigger guys to have the success I’ve had. Heavier weights tend to be older guys,” he said. “It’s all the way you think about it. I’ve always had self-confidence because a lot of people care about and believe in me.”

He chose Ohio State because of the level of athletes here, “guys that could push me to improve,” he said. Several teammates also are EHE sport industry majors.  One day he hopes to start a youth club for junior-level athletes. For now, he’s all about competing.

On the mats in Rio, he’ll keep it pretty simple. He’ll tell himself not to worry about winning or losing; to move his hands and feet as much as possible; to throw the kitchen sink at ’em.

“I tell myself to shoot early and shoot often.”

Just like the web-slinger himself.

Michelle Williams, Canada Women’s Swimming

Woman swimmer stands with hands on waist

Toronto, Canada
Exercise science education, 2014 graduate
Competed: Aug. 6, 13, 2016

In sports and in life, timing is everything. Swimmer Michelle Williams has come to trust the timing of her life.

In 2008, she was 17 and inexperienced, she recalls. She clocked some impressive times for 50-m and 100-m races, but hadn’t honed her technique.

“I had just made my national meet qualifying time.”

And, there she was, participating in her first Olympic trials. That year, she made the finals but didn’t qualify. For the 2012 Games, she again made a shot and fell short, finishing seventh at the trials.

“Going to the Olympics was a dream of mine since I started swimming,” Williams said. Her older sister, Lydia, was an elite athlete on the Canada’s national gymnastics team.  “I wanted to be just like that.”

When Lydia was in line for the 2004 Olympic team, she fractured her back. Williams watched her sister’s dreams dissipate but Lydia never stopped supporting her younger sister.

As a Buckeye, Williams made three NCAA Championships appearances and holds the school record for the 4x100 medley relay at the Big Ten Championships. She graduated summa cum laude in exercise science education, then joined Canada’s national team, intensifying her training to improve her strength and efficiency moving through the water.

“Since (the 50 free) is a short distance, you have to get all the little things — all the technical pieces — just right,” she said.

At the 2015 Pan Am Games she helped Canada win gold and set the games’ record in the 4×100 freestyle relay. Next came the Olympic trials — her third.

“The last few years I started to believed it could be done. It’s been more and more realistic as I got older,” she said.

She secured her spot on Team Canada, finishing fourth in the 100-m freestyle and second in the 50-m freestyle, which she swam in 24.82 seconds, the 18th-fastest in the world this year. Her sister was foremost in her mind.

“For her to be that awesome role model and one of my biggest supporters, I decided to do it for her,” she said.